Same Figures, but Different Names and Different Traditions

In addition to the Geomantic Study-Group on Facebook that I admin, there are a few other groups out there that focus on geomancy.  I may or may not be a member of them, or I might have been at one point before leaving, but there’s one that I belong to that focuses on the Arabic style of geomancy, Ilm-e-Ramal (Geomancy).  What the Geomantic Study-Group is for Western geomancy, this group is for Arabic `ilm al-raml (the formal Arabic term for geomancy, literally “the science of the sand”, sometimes abbreviated to raml or ramal), and since I’d love to learn more about that style of geomancy, I decided to join in.  It’s not always easy, since many of the members use Urdu or Arabic as their primary language, but when there are English conversations, I try to follow along best I can.

One of the major issues in learning Arabic `ilm al-raml for an English speaker is, of course, terminology.  It’s only fair and expected that the users of a system built in one language would use that language to discuss it, but it still poses a stumbling block.  After all, geomancy has been practiced continuously in Arabic- and Urdu-speaking countries far longer than it was in Europe, and they’ve kept the system in their own ways.  Once I see what they’re doing and see certain words repeated in certain contexts, I can usually catch on and follow along, but the biggest impediment to discussing geomancy and `iln al-raml is the different names we have for the figures themselves.  It’s difficult for me to talk about the meanings of a given figure and compare it with what it means in `ilm al-raml when neither of us know which figure we’re supposed to be talking about, after all.

So, with that in mind, I decided to produce the following table that lists the names of the sixteen geomantic figures and their names in Western geomancy (in Latin and English, using their most popular form) and in Arabic `ilm al-raml (in Arabic and English, again using their popular form).  This is to help me out to learn the names of the figures better in Arabic contexts, as well as to help the students of `ilm al-raml learn the European names for Western contexts.  For other variants in these and other languages that have historically been used for geomancy, including Hebrew, Greek, Sudanese, and Malagasy, I’d recommend checking out Stephen Skinner’s book on geomancy, Geomancy in Theory and Practice, and his larger book on correspondences, The Complete Magician’s Tables.

Figure Latin Arabic Yoruba
Populus
People
جماعت
Ǧamaʿat
Group
Oyẹku
Via
Way
طريق
Ṭariq
Way
Ogbe
Albus
White
بياض
Bayaḍ
White
Oturupọn
Coniunctio
Conjunction
اجتماع
Iǧtimaʿ
Meeting
Iwori
Puella
Girl
نقى
Naqi
Pure
Otura
Amissio
Loss
قبض الخارج
Qubiḍ al-ḫariǧ
Catching the outside
Ọsẹ
Fortuna Maior
Greater Fortune
نصرهّ الداخل
Nuṣraht al-daḫil
Inside victory
Iwọnrin
Fortuna Minor
Lesser Fortune
نصرهّ الخارج
Nuṣraht al-ḫariǧ
Outside victory
Irosun
Puer
Boy
فرح
Farih
Happiness
Irẹtẹ
Rubeus
Red
حمره
Ḥumrah
Red
Ika
Acquisitio
Gain
قبض الداخل
Qubiḍ al-daḫil
Catching the inside
Ofun
Laetitia
Joy
ليحان
Layhan
Ọbara
Tristitia
Sorrow
انكيس
Ankis
Ọkanran
Carcer
Prison
عقله
ʿUqlah
Odi
Caput Draconis
Head of the Dragon
عتبة الداخل
ʿAtabaht al-daḫil
Inner threshold
Ọsa
Cauda Draconis
Tail of the Dragon
عتبة الخارج
ʿAtabaht al-ḫariǧ
Outer threshold
Ogunda

Because I like using an Arabic transliteration system that uses diacritics for faithful romanization, it can be a little difficult to read the Arabic names, but the accented letters can be read as follows:

  • q sounds like a “k”, but further back in the throat.
  • ṭ, ṣ, and ḍ all sound like normal but with the back of the tongue further to the back and top of the throat.  However, in Urdu, ṭ and ṣ just sound like “t” and “s”, and ḍ just sounds like “z”.
  • ǧ sounds like a soft “g” or “j” (or like in the word “division”).
  • ḫ sounds like the “ch” in Scottish “loch“.
  • ḥ sounds like the “ch” in Scottish “loch” but a little smoother.
  • ʿ sounds like a very soft, whispered “h” sound, if pronounced at all.

So, “Bayaḍ” can sound like either “bah-yahd'”, or “bayz”, “Nuṣraht al-ḫariǧ” will sound like “nus-raht al-khareej”, and so forth.  Note that some of these names are not proper Arabic, and moreover, just like in Western geomancy, there are dozens of names used across the Arabophone sphere.  These are just one set that I’ve found common in geomancy groups online, and are the ones I’m trying to memorize.  Most of the other variants used are just that: variants, which are easy enough to pick up on.

Also, note that I’m using the standard planetary order of the figures in the above chart, which is fairly common for Western geomancers.  While Western geomancy doesn’t really prescribe a particular order as the order of the figures, Arabic geomancy has a set number of particular orders of the figures that are used for various divinatory purposes.  Probably the most common and canonical one is the dairah-e-abdah, which uses a kind of binary ordering, as seen in the following diagram (to be read from right to left):

While it may not seem like it makes much sense for me to make a single blog post doing nothing more than transliterating and translating a single set of Arabic names into English, given my penchant for long-winded exploratory posts, this is still an important first step in increasing Western geomancers’ understanding of Arabic `ilm al-raml as well as Arabic practitioners’ understanding of Western geomancy.  After all, it’s hard to make a journey if the door is still shut, and this helps open the door for both sides.

Now, you’ll notice that I’ve also included a third set of names, which are Yoruba for the figures as used in the sacred divination of Ifá.  I’ve included them for reference (both my own and other scholars of geomancy, especially those with a historical or academic eye), but I want to make something clear that I’ve only mentioned in passing before: Ifá is not geomancy, and geomancy is not Ifá.  Stephen Skinner talks at length about how the art of Ifá came about historically in his geomancy book, but the short of the matter is this: as geomancy traveled along the Arabic trade routes from its (likely) origin in the northern Sahara westward to Morocco and Spain, eastward to Palestine and Greece, and southward through Africa as far as Madagascar, it also traveled to West Africa where it was adopted and adapted by the priests and lorekeepers of the cultures living there.

While geomancy largely retained the same form and (mostly) the same interpretations everywhere else, it underwent dramatic changes and adaptations to the native Yoruba and Fon cultures in what is now Nigeria and Benin to become Ifá.  The form of the figures and several crucial aspects of geomancy were retained, but pretty much the entirety of the art was rebuilt from the ground up and grew apart into its own entirely-unique system.  As a result, although we as geomancers might recognize that Ifá has sixteen figures in the same format we’d consider them to be figures, almost nothing of what we know about geomancy applies to Ifá, and no assumptions should be made regarding any similarities besides the superficial appearance thereof.  To say it another way, if European geomancy and Arabic `ilm al-raml are sisters who grew up in the same house but then left to go their separate ways in neighboring cities, then Ifá is a distant cousin who grew up in an entirely different part of the country with little contact with the rest of the family.

As an initiate in La Regla de Ocha Lukumi (aka Santería), which also has roots in Nigeria and matured alongside Ifá in Cuba, Ifá is something I’m constantly surrounded by, especially since I belong to an Ifá-centric house that respects, utilizes, and incorporates Ifá and its priests (the babalawos and oluwos) in our ceremonies and lives.  While I understand the historical origins of Ifá from geomancy, I also have to understand and respect the mythological origins and religious context of its practice as its own thing.  And, like Santería itself, it’s an initiated tradition, and non-initiates are not taught or permitted to learn the secrets of Ifá; for various reasons, I am not and will likely never become an initiate in Ifá.  Unlike many Western systems including geomancy, where formal initiation is not really a Thing outside magical lodges and certain master-student systems, this might be something of a shock to my readers, but as it is, there is only so much of the external parts of Ifá that I can learn, and even less that I’m willing to share to people, even to those in Santería itself.  I caution my readers to avoid getting too studious of Ifá without considering proper initiation and study under a legitimate and respected babalawo.

Likewise, a similar word of warning for those Western geomancers who aspire to study Arabic `ilm al-raml and vice versa.  Unlike geomancy and Ifá, geomancy and `ilm al-raml are much closer in method, meaning, and use, and many things are easily translatable between the two systems.  However, caution should still be taken, because although they’re very close sister traditions where there are more similarities than differences, they are still different traditions where the differences still matter.  It’s much like the difference between Western astrology and Indian jyotiṣa astrology: same origin, same symbols, slightly different techniques of interpretation and shades of meaning of those symbols.  While some things are translatable between geomancy and `ilm al-raml, not everything is, and the two systems should still be respected as two separate systems.  Experience and study of both systems will show the diligent geomancer what can be brought over with no effort, what must be adapted from one system to the other, and what is unique and proper to one system and not the other.  Though they share the same origin and great similarities, enough time, space, and work has passed that have made the two sciences grow apart into their own unique systems.  Respect that, study the differences, and experiment accordingly.

Also, my thanks go out to Masood Ali Thahim, one of the multilingual good guys in the `ilm al-raml group on Facebook, who helped me with the Arabic spelling and transliteration of the names of the figures as used in `ilm al-raml.

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Generating Geomantic Figures

After my fantastic and entertaining chat with Gordon on his Rune Soup podcast, and in tandem with the good Dr Al’s course on the fundamentals and history of the art, there’s been a huge influx of interest in geomancy, to which I say “about goddamned time”.  As my readers (both long-term and newly-come) know, I’m somewhat of a proponent of geomancy, and I enjoy writing about it; it’s flattering and humbling that my blog is referred to as a “treasure trove” of information on the art, and I consistently see that my posts and pages on geomancy are increasingly popular.  It’s also encouraging enough to get me to work more on my book, which…if I actually get off my ass and work on it like I need to and should have been doing for some time now, will probably get put to consumable paper sometime late next year.

One of the most common questions I find people asking when they first get introduced to the art of geomancy is “how do people generate the geomantic figures?”  Unlike other forms of divination, geomancy isn’t tied down to one specific means or method.  Tarot and all forms of cartomancy use cards, astrology uses the planets and stars, scrying uses some sort of medium to, well, scry; we often classify methods of divination based on the set of tools it uses, and give it an appropriately-constructed Greek term ending in -mancy.  Geomancy is different, though; truly any number of methods can be used to produce a geomantic figure, because geomancy is more about the algorithms and techniques used in interpretation rather than the tools it uses to produce a reading.  Once you get into the feel and understanding of geomancy, you can almost quite literally pull a chart out of thin air using any tools (or none at all!) at your disposal.  Still, partially because of the ability to be so free-wheeling, newcomers to geomancy are often caught up in the tool-centric way of thinking of divination, and can become (I find) overly concerned with the “best” or “most popular” method.

To that end, let me list some of the ways it’s possible to come up with a geomantic figure.  I don’t intend for this to be an exhaustive list, but more of a generalized classification of different kinds of ways you can produce a geomantic figure (or more than one in a single go):

  1. Stick and surface.  This is the oldest method, going back to the very origins of the art in the Sahara, where the geomancer takes some stylus and applies it to an inscribable medium.  You can use a staff and a patch of soil on the ground, a wand on a box of sand, a stylus on a wax (or modern electronic) tablet, a pen on paper, or some other similar mechanic.  To use this method, simply make four lines of dots, traditionally from right to left.  Don’t count the dots; let them fall naturally, so that a random number of dots are in each line.  Some people get into a trance state, chant a quick prayer, or simply focus on the query while they make the dots, if only to distract the mind enough to avoid counting the dots and influencing what comes out.  Once you have four lines, count the dots in each line; traditionally, the geomancer would cross off the dots two-by-two (again, right-to-left) until either one or two dots were left over at the end.  These final leftover dots are then “separated” out from the line to form a single figure.  To make all four figures, simply increase the number of lines from four to sixteen, and group the rows of leftover dots into consecutive, non-overlapping groups of four rows.
  2. Coins.  This is a simple, minimalist method: flip a coin four times.  Heads means one point of the resulting figure, and tails means two (or you can swap these around, if you so prefer, but I prefer heads = one point).  Flipping a coin four times gets you four rows to make a complete figure.  Alternatively, you could flip four coins at once, perhaps of different denominations: for example, you could flip a penny for the Fire line, a nickle for the Air line, a dime for the Water line, and a quarter for the Earth line; a single throw of all four coins at once gets you a complete geomantic figure.  I consider any method that uses a “flip” to produce a binary answer to fall under this method; thus, the druid sticks used by geomancers like John Michael Greer and Dr Al Cummins would technically be considered a type of geomancy-specific “coin”, as would pieces of coconut shell where the convex side on top is “up” and the concave side on top is “down”.
  3. Divining chain.  This is a slightly modified version of the coin-based method, where four coins or disks are linked together in a chain.  Rather than throwing the coins individually, the chain itself is flung, tossed, or thrown in such a way that each coin falls on a different side.  The only example I can find of this in Western-style divination is the (possibly spurious) Chain of Saint Michael, where four saint medallions are chained, one to another, and connected to a sword charm, but a corollary to this can be found in the Yoruba divination methods of Ifá, using something called the ekuele (or ekpele, or epwele, depending on whether you’re Cuban or Nigerian and how you feel like spelling it).  There, you have four pieces of cut shell that can fall mouth-up or husk-up, or four pieces of metal that fall on one of two sides; notably, the ekuele has eight coins on it so that the diviner-priest can throw two figures at a time, but that’s because of the specific method of Ifá divination, which is only a distant cousin to geomancy and shouldn’t actually be mixed with our techniques.
  4. Dice.  Again, a pretty straightforward method: roll a single die four times, or four different dice one time.  If a given die is an odd number, use a single point; if an even number, use two points.  Some people use four different-colored cubical dice (e.g. red for Fire, yellow for Air, blue for Water, green for Earth), but I prefer to use tabletop RPG dice that come in different shapes.  For this, I use the associations of the Platonic solids to the classical elements: the tetrahedron (d4) for Fire, octahedron (d8) for Air, icosahedron (d20) for Water, and cube (d6) for Earth.  Like Poke Runyon aka Fr. Therion, you could use four knucklebones for the same purpose, as each knucklebone has four sides (traditionally counted as having values 1, 3, 4, and 6).  Dice are easy, the tools fit in a tiny bag which can itself fit into a pocket, and nobody is any the wiser if you just pull some dice out and start throwing them on a street corner.
  5. Counting tokens.  This is a similar method to using dice, but a more general application of it.  Consider a bag of pebbles, beans, or other small mostly-similar objects.  Pull out a random handful, and count how many you end up with.  If the number is odd, give the corresponding row in the geomantic figure a single point; if even, two points.  This is a pretty wide and varied set of methods; you could even, as Nigel Pennick proposes, pull up four potatoes from a field and count whether each potato has an odd or even number of eyes on it.  The idea here is to use something to, again, get you a random number that you can reduce into an odd or even answer, and isn’t really different from using dice, except instead of being presented with a number, you have to count a selection of objects obtained from a collection.  In a sense, both the dice and counting token methods can be generalized as using any random-number generator; you could use something like random.org to get you four (or sixteen) random numbers, to which you simply apply the odd-even reduction; such a generator can be found using this link.
  6. Quartered drawing.  Not really a technique or toolset on its own, but a variation on things that use coins, identical dice, or other counting tokens.  In this, you prepare a surface that’s cut into four quarters, such as a square with four quadrants or a quartered circle.  Each quarter is given to one of the four elements, and thus, to one of the four rows of a geomantic figure.  Into each quarter, you’d randomly flip one of four coins or drop a random number of beans, and read the pattern that’s produced as a single figure.  This can be useful if you’re short on similar-but-not-identical tools (like only having four pennies instead of four different types of coin, or four identical dice instead of different-colored/shaped dice).
  7. Selection of numbers.  One method of geomantic generation I know is used in Arabic-style geomancy is to ask the querent for a number from 1 to 16 (or, alternatively, 0 to 15).  Arabic-style geomancy places a huge emphasis on taskīn, or specific orders of the figures which are correlated with different attributions; one such taskīn, the Daira-e-Abdah, simply arranges the geomantic figures numerically, using their representation as binary numbers.  From the Ilm-e-Ramal group on Facebook, here’s a presentation of this taskīn with each figure given a number from 1 through 16:
    Personally, I use a different binary order for the figures (reading the Earth line as having binary value 1, Water as binary value 2, Air as binary value 4, and Fire as binary value 8), where Populus = 0 (or 16), Tristitia = 1, Albus = 2, and so forth, but the idea is the same.  To use this method, simply get four random numbers from 1 to 16 or (0 to 15), and find the corresponding figure in the binary order of the figures.  You could ask for larger numbers, of course; if a number is greater than 16 (or 15), divide the number by 16 and take the remainder.  You could use dice to produce these numbers, or just ask the querent (hopefully ignorant of the binary order used!) for a number.  In fact, you’re not bound by binary ordering of the figures; any ordering you like (planetary, elemental, zodiacal, etc.) can be used, so long as you keep it consistent and can associate the figures with a number from 1 to 16 (or 0 to 15).
  8. Playing cards.  A standard deck of 52 playing cards can be used for geomantic divination, too, and can give that sort of “gypsy aesthetic” some people like.  More than just playing 52-Pickup and seeing whether any four given cards fall face-up or face-down to treat cards as coins, you can draw four cards and look at different qualities of the cards to get a different figure.  For instance, are the cards red or black, odd or even, pip or face?  With four cards, you can make a single figure; with 16, you can make four Mothers.  Better than that, you can use all the different qualities of any given card of a deck to generate a single figure, making the process much more efficient; I’ve written about that recently at this post, which you should totally read if you’re interested.  What’s nice about this method is that you can also use Tarot cards for the same purpose, and some innovators might come up with geomancy-specific spreads of Tarot that can combine the meanings of the Tarot cards that fall with the geomantic figures they simultaneously form, producing a hybrid system that could theoretically be super involved and detailed.
  9. Geomantic tokens.  Some geomancers have tools that directly incorporate the figures, so instead of constructing a figure a line at a time like with coins or beans, a whole figure is just produced on its own.  Consider a collection of 16 tokens, like a bag of 16 semiprecious stones (like what the Astrogem Geomancy people use), or a set of 16 wooden discs, where each token has a distinct figure inscribed on each.  Reach into the bag, pull out a figure; easy as that.  If you use a bag of 16 tokens and are drawing multiple figures at once, like four Mothers, you’ll need to draw with replacement, where you put the drawn token back into the bag and give it a good shake before drawing the next.  Alternatively, if you wanted to draw without replacement, you’ll need a collection of 64 tokens where each figure is given four tokens each, such as a deck of cards where a single figure is printed onto four cards.

As for me?  When I was first starting out, I used the pen-and-paper method (or stick-and-surface method, to be more general).  This was mostly to do a sort of “kinetic meditation” to get me into the mode and feel of geomancy, going back to its origins as close as I could without being a Bedouin wise-man in the wastes of the Sahara.  After that, I made a 64-card deck of geomancy cards, with each figure having four cards.  I’d shuffle the deck, cut it into fourths from right to left, and flip the top card of each stack to form the Mothers.  For doing readings for other people in person, like at a bookstore or psychic faire, I’ll still use this; even if geomancy isn’t familiar to people, “reading cards” is, so it helps them feel more comfortable giving them a medium they’re already familiar with.  Plus, I also can get the querent’s active involvement in the divination process by having them be the ones to cut the deck after I’ve shuffled; I’ll still flip the top card, but I find having them cut the deck gives them a meaningful inclusion into the process.  Generally, though, I use tabletop RPG dice for the Platonic solids.  I roll the dice and see whether each die is odd or even for a single figure, so four throws of dice get me four Mothers.  Nowadays, I only use the stick-and-surface method if I have truly nothing else at hand, because I find the process to be slow and messy, but it still works, and I can still rely on my own familiarity with it so that it doesn’t trip me up when I have to use it.

What would I suggest for newcomers to the art?  Like me, I’d recommend new geomancers to start with the stick-and-surface method, if only to develop an intimacy with the underlying, traditional method that produced all the others.  In a sense, doing this first is like a kind of initiation, practicing the same fundamental technique as have geomancers for a thousand years, and itself can be a powerful portal into the currents of the art.  Once you have that down-pat and have gotten into the feel of the art, though, I find that the method is pretty much up to the desires and whims of the geomancer.  Anything that returns a binary answer can be used for geomancy, but for convenience, some people might prefer instead a “whole figure” type of draw.  Once you settle on a set of tools, for those who are of a more magical or ritual bent, you may want to consider consecrating or blessing them, or entrusting them to the connection and care of a divining or talking spirit, according to whatever methods you find appropriate, but this isn’t strictly necessary for the art, either.

Ultimately, the tools you use for geomancy are entirely up to you, because it’s the techniques and algorithms we use that are what truly makes the art of geomancy.  The only thing I really recommend is that the geomancer takes an active role in divinely manipulating the tools used to produce the figures.

How about you, dear reader?  What methods do you use for geomantic generation?  Have you heard of any that aren’t on the list above, or aren’t included in any of the above classifications?  What are you most comfortable with?  What methods do you dislike, either on a practical or theoretical level?  What would you recommend?

Search Term Shoot Back, January 2014

I get a lot of hits on my blog from across the realm of the Internet, many of which are from links on Facebook, Twitter, or RSS readers.  To you guys who follow me: thank you!  You give me many happies.  However, I also get a huge number of new visitors daily to my blog from people who search around the Internet for various search terms.  As part of a monthly project, here are some short replies to some of the search terms people have used to arrive here at the Digital Ambler.  This focuses on some search terms that caught my eye during the month of January 2014.

“honoring hermes on fourth day of the month” — One tidbit about Hermes is that he was born in the tenth month of the lunar year (starting with the first new moon after the summer solstice, so sometime in April) on the fourth day of the lunar month (four-ish days after the New Moon).  The religious practices of Attic Greece, where Athens was and thus where most of our knowledge about ancient and classical Greece is focused, celebrated a bevy of gods on their “monthly birthdays”, as evidenced by what we know of their calendar (which forms the basis of my lunisolar grammatomantic calendar).  Thus, a monthly public ritual was performed for Hermes on the fourth of every lunar month in ancient Athens, which is the day I use as well for my monthly Hermaia ritual.  For example, yesterday was the new moon, so today is the first day of the lunar month; the fourth day would then be this coming Monday, February 3, when I celebrate the next monthly Hermaia.

“letter a in shorthand”, “short hand alphabet”, “shorthand in english alphbet”, etc. — I get a lot of talks about shorthand, and my posts on the personal shorthand I’ve devised as a type of private cursive are among the most popular posts on this blog.  That said, I think it’s important to realize that shorthand is just cursive writing taken to its logical extreme.  Normal handwriting, or “print”, is meant to be formal and clear; cursive (from Latin currere, “to run”) is meant for faster, more fluid writing.  Shorthand is handwriting sped up to keep up with speech as it happens; because it can be difficult to maintain a congruence between spoken sounds and sometimes convoluted rules of spelling, most stenographic systems use phonetic methods of writing as opposed to normal ways of spelling.  A few such systems used in the Anglophone world are Pittman and Gregg, which can be found on this page at Omniglot.  My style of shorthand differs in that it’s meant to preserve the orthographic spelling of English while being fast to write; in that sense, it’s much more a cursive than a shorthand, which is often more a style of abbreviated symbolic writing than proper orthographic writing.

“orgone pot leaf” — I…uh?  I know doing a lot of drugs can lead you into some weird places, but…what?  I mean, I suppose you could use cannabis leaves to make an orgone accumulator, being an organic substance that attracts orgone, but why waste good weed?

“what periodof the day does the ruling archangel of the planet start?” — I don’t your English understand quite so.  Angels can be said to rule over particular hours of the day based on the planetary hours, and Trithemius gives a list of them in his ritual.  As always, planetary hours are based on your local latitude and longitude, since it relies on sunrise and sunset times, and may not be calculable at extreme latitudes due to the extreme brevity or complete lack of solar daytime and nighttime.

“what does each geomantic figure mean?” — You may be interested in checking out my series of posts on geomancy, De Geomanteia, where I go over what each geomantic figure means in a Western geomantic-divinatory framework.

“the magical value of mem in the hebrew alphabet” — Ah, the occult study of letters!  Normally I work with Greek, but knowledge of Hebrew letters and their occult significations is also highly regarded in modern Hermetic magic, especially given the influence of the Golden Dawn.  Mem is the 13th letter of the Hebrew script, with a phonetic value of /m/ and two written forms mem and mem sofit; the former is given the gematria value of 40 and the latter the value of 600, though 40 is the more important value to know.  Cornelius Agrippa gives it the magical correspondence of the Zodiac sign Virgo, though the Golden Dawn (based on other qabbalistic works) give it the association of the element Water.  Going by the Kircher Tree of Life used by the Golden Dawn and Thelema, Mem is associated with the Tarot card trump XII, the Hanged Man, as well as path 23, between Geburah and Hod on the Pillar of Severity.  Its form is said to come from the Egyptian hieroglyph for water, and its name from the Phoenician word for the same, and is associated with the Greek letter mu and Latin/Cyrillic letters em.

“can a pentacle really charge an object” — Er…it depends, really.  To “charge” something implies the use of what what’s known as the “energy model” of magic, where magic works due to some ethereal, nonphysical energy that can be directed around to achieve occult ends.  If we “charge” something, we consider it to be filled with an energy, much as we charge batteries.  To that end, I suppose you could say that some pentacles, when properly made, become a source of a particular energy or are themselves charged with an energy, and can then (if designed in a certain way) give that charge to other objects.  Not all pentacles are designed to do this, though; some pentacles are used to attract love, which isn’t charging any kind of object.  Further, this only makes sense if you use the energy model of magic, which is a pretty modern framework; the more traditional framework is the “spirit model”, where magic works due to the action of and interaction with spirits.  In this model, a pentacle might be a place of habitation for a spirit or receive its blessing to attain a certain end, and using the pentacle essentially sends the spirit out to change something out in the cosmos.  It’s not so much a matter of “charging” as it is “spirit-action”, so it depends on your worldview and which model you think works best at a given moment.  Generally speaking, though, and to prevent any more use of semantic sophistry, yes, a pentacle can charge an object given that that’s what the pentacle was designed to do.

“can labradorite be used for grounding” — I wouldn’t suggest it.  My thoughts on labradorite associate it most with the sphere of the fixed stars, along with the Sun, Moon, and Mercury.  It’s a very stellar, astral type of stone, and I use it for work with Iophiel as well as with pure Light.  Grounding suggests bringing things in the body outward and literally grounding it out, like an electrical charge, so it helps to calm and make the body more mundane, more earthy, more relaxed, and less charged.  Labradorite, on the other hand, I’ve found works for subtle charging generally or strong empowerment with stellar or lucid force, so it would not be good for grounding.

“geomantic wizard” — At your service.

“the hexagram of ifa” — As a prefatory disclaimer, I know little about ifá besides what I’ve learned from Western geomancy and its history.  Ifá is the great geomantic tradition of the Yoruban people based in Nigeria, often seen in the West nowadays closely allied with Santeria communities.  Ifá uses the same sixteen figures as Western geomancy, though with different names and meanings; however, unlike Western geomancy that uses four Mothers to generate 65536 charts, ifá diviners (often called “babalawo” or “father of secrets”), only use two figures to generate 256 readings.  That said, each of the 256 readings has about a Bible’s worth of knowledge, stories, prohibitions, rules, situations, and the like that can be ascribed to it, all of which for all the combinations must be memorized by heart.  It’s an intense system, and one that has my highest respect.  That said, I know of no part of ifá that uses any sort of hexagram; the figures themselves have four rows of one or two marks each, and the figures are not arranged in any form of hexagram or six-figure arrangement.  You may be getting ifá confused with the Chinese I Ching, which does have hexagrams instead of tetragrams.

“concave golden dawn pentacle” — My Golden Dawn-style pentacle is just a flat wooden disc I got at a Michaels that I woodburned, colored, and customized to my ends.  Now, I’m no expert on Golden Dawn regalia or paraphernalia, so I’m unsure about the precise needs or designs of these things.  That said, if I recall correctly from my days sneaking into my older brother’s neopagan stuff long ago, Donald Michael Kraig had offered this design idea in his Modern Magick.  His idea was that the pentacle, the Elemental Weapon of Earth, was used to both collect the forces of Earth as well as act as a shield for protection.  If we use rays of light as a metaphor, if we use a flat mirror, we reflect the light away from the source; if we use a convex mirror (one that bulges outward), only a small portion gets reflected at the source; if we use a concave mirror (one that sinks inward), nearly all the light gets reflected back at the source.  Thus, if we use a concave pentacle, anything unwanted sent towards us gets reflected back at the source; plus, it acts to “collect” the energy of Earth with its bowl-like shape, much as the chalice “collects” the energy of Water.

“is ritual and invocation one and the same?” — No; an invocation is a type of ritual, but there are many types of ritual.  There are many types of ritual, some of which I’ve classified before in my own admittedly-arbitrary system.  Sometimes you may want to get rid of something (banishing or exorcism), which is the opposite of bringing something in or up (invocation or evocation), though either type of ritual may involve the other (clearing out a space for something to be brought in, or invoking a higher power to drive something away forcefully).

“is orgone bunk?” — God, how I wish it were, yet I know from my experiments with orgone that it’s actually useful magical tech.  It just seems like such BS because of its modern pseudoscientific quackery language, but it’s actually pretty good stuff when applied and understood from a less forcedly-modern scientific manner.  It’s like how people often used to phrase theories and explanations of magic based on electricity (Raphaelite 1800s occultism) or magnetism (Franz Bardon) or quantum physics (modern New Age swill); the theories offered simply don’t line up with what’s physically happening, and betray a deep misunderstanding of the actual physics involved with electricity, magnetism, quantum physics, etc.  However, when it’s removed from this sort of stuff, orgone fits right in with an energy-based model of magic, not unlike the use of ki/qi in Eastern systems of energy manipulation.  So, no, orgone is not bunk, though it certainly can be seen that way when viewed from the way Wilhelm Reich wanted it to be viewed.

“digital phylactery” — This one puzzled me a bit; I have information about a phylactery of mine I made before, but I don’t quite know what a digital phylactery is.  Then I realized that I use several of them, based on modern advances with Buddhist prayer wheels.  A prayer wheel is a device used in prayer or meditation that rotates; the rotating object is a chamber that contains a written prayer, like a mantra or holy image, that when spun generates the same effect as having said that mantra or seen that holy image.  Usually, the paper inside contains many hundreds or thousands of repetitions of that mantra or prayer, so one spin of the prayer wheel would be equivalent to saying that mantra as many times as it was written.  Consider that we use computers with hard disks, pieces of cylindrical or circular hardware that store data written on it and that spin at speeds of as much as or exceeding 15000 RPM.  Data written on hard disks is the same as any other data just using a different writing system, theoretically, so having a mantra or prayer in a text file spinning on a hard disk can be used immensely well.  Thus, you might consider saving a text file with a prayer, mantra, bitmap image of a holy image or shrine, on any computer you work with or own that has a hard drive (solid-state drives are another matter).  For instance, I have prayers to XaTuring (yes, I still occasionally do a minor thing or two with that patron god of the Internet) saved in my home directory as invisible files on the UNIX servers I use at work, as well as on my personal Linux machines.  You might set up your own server that contains nothing but a RAID array of prayer text files spinning up and down at regular intervals, which could easily suffice as a high-grade digital phylactery.

“how to conjure demon wordpress” — I’m unsure whether this is asking about how to conjure the demon known as WordPress (one unknown to me) or how to conjure a demon by means of WordPress, and since I know nothing of the demon called WordPress (and I’m pretty fond of the platform), I assume it must be the latter.  I mean, there is the one time I made a post in thanks to and in homage of the elemental demon Paimon, but that’s not really a conjuration.  You might have the conjuration text along with an image of the demon’s seal stored on a hard drive to use the “digital phylactery” idea from above, and draw a Solomonic triangle or Table of Practice on the hard disk or put the entire computer within one, or you might use a consecrated computer where you write WordPress blog posts within conjurations of a demon as a running liber spirituum.  I dunno, really.

“japanese alphabet with english letters” — This is one thing I really don’t get; so many people have come to my blog looking for Japanese writing translated into English, when I’ve mentioned Japanese four times on my blog to date, and none were about transliterating Japanese into English.  First, Japanese does not use an alphabet; an alphabet is a system of writing that uses letters to indicate either consonants or vowels.  Japanese uses several writing systems, among them kanji (Chinese characters that are combinations of semantic, phonetic, and pictoral images drawn in a codified way) and the syllabaries hiragana and katakana.  A syllabary is a writing system that use letters to indicate syllables, often consonant-vowel combinations.  Thus, while English uses the two letters “k” and “i” to write the syllable “ki” (as in “key”), Japanese might use キ (in katakana), き (in hiragana), and any number of kanji for the syllable depending on the context and meaning of the character; some might be 幾 (meaning “some” or “how many”), 氣 (meaning “energy” or “atmosphere”), 木 (meaning “tree”), 箕 (referring to the “winnowing basket” constellation in Chinese astrology), or any other number of kanji, all of which we would transliterate as “ki”.  So it’s not as easy as it sounds; not everything is an alphabet!

“using pewter in orgonite” — Pewter is an inorganic material, not having organic sources, so in orgonic terms it’d be used in orgone systems to repel orgone.  You could also use lead, mercury, arsenic, or cyanide (provided it comes from an inorganic source!) equally well, especially so if you like wasting your life on orgonite (which, unlike orgone, is bunk as far as I can reckon.  Pewter is a blend of metals, any generic cheap greyish alloy, so because of its mixed material it’s assigned to the planet Mercury, if that makes any difference in the waste of materials that is orgonite.

Search Term Shoot Back, December 2013

I get a lot of hits on my blog from across the realm of the Internet, many of which are from links on Facebook, Twitter, or RSS readers.  To you guys who follow me: thank you!  You give me many happies.  However, I also get a huge number of new visitors daily to my blog from people who search around the Internet for various search terms.  As part of a monthly project, here are some short replies to some of the search terms people have used to arrive here at the Digital Ambler.  This focuses on some search terms that caught my eye during the month of December 2013.  As most of you know, the 49 Days of Definitions project continued through and finished up in this month, forming the bulk of the posts, but there was time for other people to get to my blog through other terms.

“how does 2nd decan libra embrace their charm?” — Seeing as how I’m one of these myself, it’s hard to tell others how I can truly embrace my own devilishly awesome charm.  It has to do a lot with drinking diet cola and not giving a shit, generally.  Also being a magician.  Also being humble.

“fill me with your anointing lord” — Oh baby, I’ll fill you with my holy spirit, alright.  Get down on your knees and pray for it.  Jesus is coming; grab a towel.  (Sorry I’m not sorry.)

“favorable geomantic figures” — Personally, I dislike simply saying that a particular figure is always favorable or always unfavorable, but rather see how individual figures agree or disagree with a particular query or situation.  For instance, if one wants a quick escape out of a situation, the figure Fortuna Maior (which, although greatly useful) is terrible for this since it indicates having to overcome something and conquer it instead of simply sidestepping it.  That said, there are two systems I know of for determining favorable figures generally.  In Robert Fludd’s system, there are three types of figures: good, which are Fortuna Maior, Laetitia, Caput Draconis, Albus, Puella, and Acquisitio; moderate, which are Populus, Via, and Coniunctio; and bad, which are Fortuna MInor, Tristitia, Caput Draconis, Rubeus, Puer, Amissio, and Carcer.  An older Arabic system has good figures as Populus, Albus, and Laetitia; better figures as Cauda Draconis, Fortuna Minor, and Laetitia; the best figures as Acquisitio and Fortuna Maior; bad figures as Puer, Coniunctio, and Via; worse figures as Cauda Draconis and Amissio; and the worst figures as Carcer, Tristitia, and Rubeus.  Generally speaking, I find Fortuna Maior, Acquisitio, Caput Draconis, Fortuna Minor, Puella, Laetitia, Albus, and Coniunctio to be favorable figures, from the most favorable to least favorable.

“mancy vs kinesis” — I can tell that some of the people who get to my blog are interested in comic book or RPG magic, that’s for sure.  Since both of these roots come from Greek, they’re used in some words to make “schools of magic” or whatnot seem that much more fantastical.  Briefly put, anything that ends in “mancy” means a divination system, and anything that ends in “kinesis” means a control or movement of something.  Thus, “pyromancy” is divination with fire, such as scrying or looking at burnt patterns in wood, while “pyrokinesis” is the supernatural harnessing of flames, fire, and heat according to one’s will.  In some arts, the line between divination and magic is blurred, such as in necromancy; though it ends in “mancy” and was originally and ultimately intended to gain information from the dead or by means of spirits of the dead, a lot of necromantic technique involves methods to raise the dead and commune with them in nonspecific ways, so a good deal of death magic was confused with the gaining of knowledge from the dead.  In video games and RPGs, however, a lot of “mancies” are actually “kineses”; anyone who moves earth with their mind is more properly a “geokineticist” and not a geomancer.

“meditation to obtain a kinesis” — Lots of meditation, sure.  I’m sure you’d eventually develop some awesome powers if you become a master of meditation in the meanwhile, but that shouldn’t be the point of meditation, in my opinion.

“orbs around my altar” — You might want to banish your shit or, like, use some disinfectant.  That, or stop taking crappy photos of your altars and dust your bedroom more.

“what spirit should I summon” — That’s like asking “what prayer should I pray” or “what food should I eat”.  It’s really up to you and what you feel appropriate and safe with.  I mean, I could just suggest Bael or Asmodeus or Yahweh, but I don’t feel like being that mean at the moment.

“beings that require bones for.conjuring summoning evocation -game” — I don’t know of any in the Western tradition that require bones, exactly, though they’re not exactly frowned upon, either.  Bones are a part of the body ruled by Saturn, being the densest part of the body as well as giving it structure.  Spirits of the dead as well as certain animals appreciate bones, especially if they’re the bones of the body of the spirit when it was still alive.  Bones are generally good for communing with gods of the dead, too, but they’re not required in terms of offerings or sacrifices, either.  Other traditions place a large importance on bones and their spiritual uses, but I’m not as familiar with them.  As far as summoning goes, very few spirits require bones to get their attention.  Candles, incense, and orations get you much farther and for a cheaper, cleaner cost.

“geomancy ifa” — Ah, the two great divinatory arts of Europe and Africa.  Geomancy, as I’m sure you’re well-aware, is a pretty old and well-developed form of European divination that has its roots in the Saharan Desert, going back about a thousand years.  It spread from there both to the east through the Middle East and Greece as well as to the west through Spain into the rest of Europe, where it was practiced virtually nonstop from then onward.  It went underground for a while in the past few centuries, but it’s starting to become more popular again.  However, the roots of geomancy also went south from the Sahara into the rest of Africa, where it was practiced in Madagascar as sikidy and by the Yoruban peoples as ifá and diloggun.  This was brought over with the slave trade into the Americas, where it’s practiced closely with the Santería religion and some other ATRs.  While geomancy and ifá share the same origin, they developed quite independently of each other, so it’s hard for me to claim any knowledge on ifá save that it’s pretty deep.  Only a select few people are meant to learn ifá (babalawos, generally), so unless you’re part of Santería communites, you’re better off sticking with geomancy.

“what is an aquarius/libra decanate land aries/leo decanate together like?” — Another decan/decanate question, woo!  I’m honestly going to ignore the part about romantic pairings because, really, it’s just about pointless to answer a question like that based on Sun signs alone.  Considering the importance of the other planets, the rising sign, house placements, and the like, Sun signs (though important) are only a fraction of the information a proper horoscope can give you.  As for the decans themselves, this query indicates a fundamental misunderstanding of them.  The decans of the signs are ruled by planets, not other signs!  There are different methods to assign the planets to the decans, however, with the Chaldaean ordering being traditional in Western astrology but the Vedic system (which is associated more closely with the signs than the planets alone) has been popular of late.

“where to buy consecrated chalk” — Regrettably, I haven’t found a supplier for this, and none of the local stores around me sell common items that have already been blessed.  To that end, I wrote up a short ritual for blessing your own chalk, which you’re free to use on whatever chalk you might get for yourself.  Alternatively, you could probably just buy a pack of chalk and ask a Catholic priest to bless it for you.  If you live near a botanica (Hispanic Santería/ATR magic store), I suggest getting a cake of cascarilla, or eggshell chalk, which is pretty good in its own right.

“how to make a real snowflake using magic without even chanting.anything” — I’m amused that this query assumes that all of magic requires chanting, but surprise, it doesn’t!  Just close your eyes, go to the kitchen, open the freezer, and knock off some of the ice from those leftovers you put in two months ago.  There you go, a real snowflake!  And yes, the magic of refrigeration is truly a miracle and allows otherwise inhospitable places to become endurable (e.g. the entire southern US).

“is anyone transalting munich manuel of demonic magic” — I have a few sections of the Munich Manual translated, though translating any more is currently on hold for the time being.  The Latin from Kieckhefer’s critical edition of the Munich Manual is pretty clear and well-organized, so anyone with even rudimentary skill in Latin and a good dictionary can get good progress on their own.  I have some other projects to translate in the meanwhile, but if there’s a particular section that you’re just absolutely dying to have translated ASAP, let me know and I’ll see what I can do about getting it put into English in the near future.

Also, Happy New Year!  Go get drunk, call on the stars and your ancestors, and bring in 2014 right!